Meet Jeffrey Wahlberg, the 23-Year-Old Dominican-American Actor Who Plays Diego in ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’

Nicholas Coombe, Jeff Wahlberg, Isabela Moner and Madeleine Madden in 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold.' Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The Wahlberg family has another big name branching out of its tree. Jeffrey Wahlberg — son of Jim Wahlberg (this makes Mark and Donnie his uncles) and a Dominican mother (who’s not really identified in the media) — brings Dora the Explorer character Diego to life in this summer’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold. He’s an ambitious and enthusiastic 23-year-old whose first big-screen debut will take place when the film releases on August 9. Wahlberg will star alongside iconic Latino actors, such as Danny Trejo and Benicio Del Toro, creating an all-new, slightly more grown up, but wondrous and exciting take on one of Nickelodeon’s most popular children’s franchises of all time.

Wahlberg’s acting chops branch far beyond the credit of his uncles or his family name. Last year, the young actor led a cast that featured Rashida Jones and James Franco in the eerie, emotional small-town drama Don’t Come Back from the Moon; the actor also starred as the Prince in the sci-fi film Future World. His collection of work shows he is no stranger to the world of fantasy and action. This, plus a mix of charisma and readiness to jump headfirst into the fray of a new project, is what makes Wahlberg stand out as he continues to carve out his own path as a performer.

In Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Wahlberg’s take on Diego, a children’s cartoon character, expands into the story of a teenager who simply wants to impress his friends and keep his reputation in check. All of this gets thrown out of balance when his cousin, Dora (Isabela Moner), moves out of the jungle in order to stay for an indefinite amount of time.

“I feel so lucky to be able to play him,” Wahlberg says in an interview with Remezcla. He described cousins Dora and Diego as “inseparable” young adventurers who remained best friends until the age of 6 when Diego and his family moved to the city. After Dora’s parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) embark on a mission to the fictional ruins of Parapata, Dora is sent to stay with her cousin’s family until they return, marking her very first time ever leaving the jungle.

Isabela Moner and Jeff Wahlberg in ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold.’ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
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“Diego is just insecure and focused on being Mr. Cool, so she kind of completely messes up what he’s got going on at his school.”

Along with the culture shock, our heroine must repair a strained relationship with Diego. The two cousins, after being apart for over half a decade and raised in very different societies, have difficulties rekindling their friendship that they must work out over the course of the movie in order to achieve mutual goals.

“Diego is just insecure and focused on being Mr. Cool, so she kind of completely messes up what he’s got going on at his school,” Wahlberg explains.

The two cousins, with their friends, their animal companions, and mysterious newcomer Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), embark on an adventure to discover new things and save the day. This is, according to Wahlberg, where we’ll see the real Diego begin to shine again.

“We see him change a lot over the course of this movie, and he really starts to learn how to get in touch with his family and his home in the jungle … it’s all a part of him,” he adds. “It’s where he was raised, so he has to reconnect with it in order to move forward.” There’s a sense of familiarity in this story to many Latinx folks, particularly first-gens and immigrants. There’s always a sense of disconnect in situations like Diego’s, either through long-distance moves or assimilating into other cultures.

Filming took the actor across the world to Australia, which Wahlberg says was an “adventure” and a “thrill” to experience. “I’m a secret nature boy, so I can be entertained by flowers and beautiful trees and the sky,” he adds.

Madeleine Madden, Isabela Moner, Jeff Wahlberg and Nicholas Coombe in ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold.’ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
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But no jungle comes without its difficulties. Despite all of its beauty, survival within the humid, and often unexplored, parts of nature can be a little risky on a live set. “You have to be aware of where you’re stepping, what leaves you’re touching,” Wahlberg says. “But it was fun — it’s like an adrenaline rush, and it was beautiful.”

The film features massive, detailed sets full of traps and treasure that the actors must navigate, which meant that many of the intricate set pieces were coveted among the cast and crew. “I wouldn’t wanna anger the gods by taking anything,” Wahlberg jokes, “but if they would have let me, there’s a quick beat in the movie where we first see the beginnings of treasure and there’s this huge green emerald about the size of a basketball, and I was so transfixed by that on set that I was like, ‘Oh, I want that.’”

Wahlberg’s upcoming projects remain a mystery, but his turn as Diego might be exactly what he needs to truly break into the stardom that he has the potential for. With mentors and an attitude like his, this actor is set to go places.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold opens in theaters on August 9.